In the time honored fashion of many Arcam products the irDAC
is not an especially showy performer. It is impressively smooth and refined and
has a tonal balance that should complement a wide variety of different music.
The Cinematic Orchestra’s To Build a Home is wonderfully natural with Patrick
Watson’s vocals given a crispness and definition that lends the performance a
realism and presence that is hard not to like. The soundstage is a solid and
believable construction that places the performers in a way that gives them a
convincing relationship to one another.
Where the irDAC differs from some older Arcam products is
that there is a sense of excitement that wasn’t always present before. Its
sound isn’t wearing or frenetic – it never makes the Cinematic Orchestra sound
anything other than as smooth – but ask it to pick up the pace and it does so
with a confidence that was not present before. This gives the irDAC an
assurance with certain genres that vastly aids the appeal.
Listening to the eponymously titled debut album by The
Music, a jarring and occasionally harsh joyride of rhythm and drive, the Arcam
just grips and goes. There is a sense of life and entertainment to the irDAC
that hasn’t been evident in some of the safer-sounding Arcam products of old.
At the same time, the irDAC flatters the recording but does it so artfully that
you really only notice when you listen to the same album through something less
This fleetness of foot does seem to be at the expense of a
tiny bit of bass depth and the Arcam is not the most seismic of performers in
the category, but the bass response it does have is detailed, clean and has the
same tonal realism as the upper registers do. There are other DAC’s at the
price that can dig a little deeper though, and in a system with limited bass
extension this may be noticeable. The irDAC also manages to be extremely
consistent in performance across all the rear panel inputs and the irDAC gives
a perceptive performance boost to all sources.
The Arcam also proves to be equally adept with compressed
material and 256kbps MP3 files on an iPhone and Spotify via a laptop sound
perfectly enjoyable and the irDAC avoids revealing the limitations of these
At the other end of the scale, high resolution files played
via a laptop into USB or via a Naima ND5XS streamer via coaxial retain their
wonderful weight and realism. Antonio Forcione and Sabrina Scuibba’s Take
Fiveis fantastically immediate with exceptional detail retrieval. Even if the
idea of installing the USB driver doesn’t appeal and you don’t mind being
limited to 24/96, the Arcam still sounds impressively real with the high-res
version of Muse’s The 2nd Law.
The Arcam still
sounds impressively real with the high-res version of Muse’s The 2nd Law.
The irDAC is certainly an ambitious undertaking, but Arcam
has managed to pull it off with considerable finesse. This is an exceptionally
well specified digital-to-analogue convertor for the $638.20 asking price and –
most importantly of all – the irDAC backs the spec up with a performance that
combines everything that is likeable about Arcam with a drive and sense of fun
that raises the bar even higher. If you are looking for a line-level DAC under
$797.75, you can call off the search – Arcam has built all the DAC you’re ever
likely to need.
The irDAC is
certainly an ambitious undertaking, but Arcam has managed to pull it off with
Sound quality: 5/5
Value for money: 5/5
Build quality: 4.5/5
Ease of drive: 4.5/5
Like: Excellent spec, solid build, lively and refined sound
Dislike: Slight lack of bass depth
We say: A superbly accomplished and beautifully realized DAC that
should appeal to a wide variety of users
Product: Arcam irDAC
Type: Digital to analogue converter
Dimensions (W x H x D) : 190 x 120 x 44mm
Features : Burr Brown PCM1796 DAC; 24/192kHz capable
across all inputs; Two coaxial, two optical and one USB input; IR remote